Composting with worms in the home may seem intimidating, but it's super easy to do once you have all the appropriate materials and some sound advice, which is what I hope this post offers to you!
When I first started vermicomposting in my home, or using worms to turn organic food waste into nutrient, rich soil, I had to do some research on the most sound way to start. Being in the city in an apartment complex, I also wanted to make sure I was doing it correctly so that I wasn't attracting any unwanted pests, like mice or cockroaches. Here's how I started.
10 Steps to Setting Up Your Worm Bin
- Find an appropriate worm bin for your home. A worm bin is basically the vessel in which your worms will live and operate in. There are plenty of DIY sites sharing different ways to build a worm bin. The best one I've found is by Chris over at Sacred Resource and I also have a link here to build a similar unit.
- Place the unit in an appropriate place in your home. You'll want to make sure the vermicomposter is in an appropriate place for your use (mine is under the sink in the kitchen), but also gives your worms the appropriate conditions. Worms don't want to be too hot. Anything over 80°F will be too hot and anything below 59°F will be too chilly. Make sure you place them in a location that teeters between those two temperatures for optimum worm activity.
- Order your worms from a designated worm farm. Start small, ordering around 1-2 pounds of red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida), which is equivalent to 1000-2000 worms. I purchased mine from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm, but there are plenty of other reliable purveyors out there. One thousand worms will run you around $25.00-$35.00, and you'll want to make sure that you're home when they arrive because you'll need to get them out of their packaging as soon as you can.
- Prep the worm bedding for their new home. Worms will need bedding in their new home. I used about 1" of potting soil combined with two grocery bags that I shredded up and wet down. Worms love brown paper bags, uncoated newspaper, and even cardboard, as long as it's shredded and moist. They will actually eat the paper in addition to the fruits, veggies and grains that you give them.
- Give your worms a little bit of food to start. I've read in other places that you shouldn't feed your worms in the first few days as they acclimate to their new environment. This hasn't been my experience. I provided around a cup of veggie skins and fruits to the vermicomposter and within the first day, the worms were already active in the bin.
- Keep an eye on your worms for the first two days. When I first ordered worms, about two dozen of them decided to leave the worm bin and explore the surrounding environment. This typically would be alright, if they were outside, but it's not a good idea for them if it's your dry kitchen floor. Fleeing worms is a normal phenomenon in the first day or two, but it can also mean that their environment is not adequate. If the latter is the case, make sure they have enough soil and bedding, and ensure their environment is moist enough. If you find a worm outside your container, just carefully pick it up with your hands and gently put him/her (they are hermaphroditic!) back into the worm bin.
- Regularly moisten the environment. The worm bin will often maintain moisture, but you should check in fairly regularly just to make sure. If it's starting to get dry, be sure to spray the bedding with filtered water. I typically open up my worm bin every other day to check the moisture levels and if it starts to feel dry, I'll give it around 50 squirts from my spray bottle.
- Feed your worms the appropriate amount of food. Worms will eat around 25-50% of their body weight per day, so if you started off with a pound of worms, then they'll eat 1/4 - 1/2 pound daily. Additionally, worms double in number every 90 days, so if you started with one pound of worms, you'll likely have two pounds of worms three months later. That means you can increase the amount of food that you give them. Worms will also regulate their numbers with how much food you do feed them, so if you don't overfeed them, then they may breed less. It's important not to feed worms too much because if you do then food may start to rot, which is what produces bad odors.
- Feed your worms the appropriate type of food. Worms cannot compost all foods, so don't feed them any meats, fish, dairy, oils, sugary stuff including baked goods or sugary cereals, or citrus, as the latter has a chemical that is toxic to worms. Red wigglers are primarily good at composting vegetables, most fruits (except citrus), and non-sugary cereals and grains. Additionally they like plant clippings, tea bags (as long as they are compostable), brown paper bags, uncoated newspaper, and even cardboard. Coffee grounds/filters are also safe to feed them, but they can make the soil environment a little acidic, so just be mindful as to how much you're putting in.
- As worm bin fills up, give them more space. My worm bin is built in tiers, similar to an upside down flat top pyramid. When the bottom tier fills up with vermicompost and food, you can add a second tier, which will have chicken wire on the bottom, so that the worms can pass from one tier to the next. Be sure to add some potting soil and wet newspaper or paper bag bedding to this, and begin placing food there. The worms will travel up to the second tier. Once they all move up to that tier, you can remove the bottom tier and sift out the soil or make a compost tea. Additionally you can leave that tier on the bottom, in the event any worms fall back down again to that tier.
Let me know if you end up assembling your own worm bin and how you like it. You can message me here or also on Instagram @homesteadbrooklyn. 🌿